The American Dream is the belief that anyone – regardless of background – can be
successful with hard work. This unit focuses on this issue, asking if it is true. It also
looks in more detail at American politics, both how it works and who is involved as
well as discussing America’s immigration debate.
Social & economic inequalities and Government action
Temporary Assistance for Needy
TANF only available for two years at a
Families (TANF) is a program to provide
time and for a maximum of five years in
help to poor families. TANF is a fixeda lifetime; leaves people very poor if
term scheme which gives money for rent they don’t get a job. Legal immigrants
and bills. Participants must be looking for are not allowed TANF. Participants must
work and take part in training. People in also take any job, even if not suitable e.g.
college can get TANF.
no account of childcare problems.
Affirmative Action has been running
Affirmative Action is very controversial.
since the 1970s. This scheme allows
It has been challenged and changed in
colleges, universities and employers to
the Supreme Court several times. When
consider race as a factor when recruiting. AA schemes have ended it has often
Since its introduction EMs have become seen a huge fall in black/Hispanic
(overall) richer in the US.
participation or employment.
President Obama proposed major
America has huge health problems e.g.
healthcare reform to make health
obesity, cancer, etc. Around 50 million
insurance compulsory, with the
Americans are uninsured, which means
government paying for poorer people.
they often go without medical
US government already pays Medicaid
treatment. Obama’s healthcare changes
for poor people, Medicare for the elderly won’t come in for two more years (and
and provides treatment to veterans.
could still be stopped).
No Child Left Behind Act was introduced Dispute about its overall effectiveness;
by President Bush and set minimum
US Department of Education doesn’t
standards e.g. results, attendance. Extra have resources to monitor every school.
federal money invested too. Schools lost Up to parents to complain if standards
money if they didn’t meet targets.
low; poorest parents often find it hardest
Poorest pupils got extra tutoring if
to complain. Focus on least able pupils;
needed, which helped them.
more able then miss out on help.
Food Stamps Program aims to help poor Many people claim that the money
Americans afford food. They receive a
provided is still not enough to have a
debit-style card and a monthly allowance healthy diet; this makes the US problems
which can only be spent on food. Helps
with obesity and bad health worse. Most
46 million Americans each month and
research suggests money is spent on
costs around $67 billion per year.
cheap, fatty foods.
Checks and balances / Powers of the President
The US Federal Government is divided into three parts: executive (runs the country,
President), legislative (makes the laws, Congress) and judicial (interprets laws and
constitution, Supreme Court). To ensure that no one part becomes too powerful
each can influence the other; this is known as ‘checks and balances’.
The President can veto (reject) laws from
Congress e.g. Bush vetoed Stem Cell
funding in 2006. The President also
appoints people to the government and
Supreme Court e.g. Obama nominated
Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. He is
also Commander-in-chief, meaning he is
in charge of the Armed Forces and can
sign treaties with other countries.
Limits on powers
Congress can overrule the veto, as long
as 2/3 of its members vote to do so e.g.
2005 flood prevention bill. Only Congress
has the power to declare war; they also
fund the Armed Forces and can
withdraw this e.g. Democrats and Iraq.
Congress can reject the President’s
nominations. Once on the Supreme
Court judges can ignore the President.
Limits on power
Congress makes all laws and decides on
The President can veto laws, which can
the country’s budget. They have the
delay or cancel them. He can also use his
power to declare war and get the final
national media profile to influence
say on all treaties with foreign countries. Congress to take certain action e.g.
Congress can reject presidential ideas for healthcare bill. It is also the President
laws e.g. Obama’s DREAM Act. They
who proposes the national budget. The
make final decision on all government
Supreme Court can rule that any new
and Supreme Court jobs.
laws are unconstitutional.
THE SUPREME COURT
Limits on power
The Supreme Court interprets the
Judges are nominated by the President;
Constitution; if they rule that a new law he chooses people who agree with him.
or budget goes against this they can
The President can also pardon (free)
strike it down e.g. they are considering
people from prison. Congress decides if
Obama’s healthcare bill. They are in post the President’s nominations will be
for life and are unlikely to ever be
elected; they can and do reject them e.g.
removed so cannot be intimidated.
George Bush and Harriet Myers.
Ethnic minorities - political progress
America is still politically divided. Whites are more likely to be registered to vote and
to actually use their vote. The overwhelming majority of politicians are white too.
However some changes are happening, not least given Obama’s election. Generally
EMs are most likely to vote Democrat, and more whites vote Republican.
VOTING AND REGISTRATION
In 2008 all EMs saw an increase in
EMs less likely than whites to be
turnout (blacks increased by 8%);
registered to vote and to actually vote.
Obama/role model factor? Government Voting turnout linked to education;
campaigns such as Rock the Vote and
blacks/Hispanics have lower education
the Motor Voter Act have made it easier levels. Hispanics have language and
to register and then vote. Growth of
immigration barriers. 2008; 49%
black middle class relevant too.
Hispanics voted, 66% whites.
Election of Obama was huge; first ever
Blacks and Hispanics under-represented
black man in the White House. Stands a
population size; blacks make up 8% of
good chance of re-election in 2012. More Congress but 13% of population. Whites
EMs elected to Congress; 42 blacks, up
make up 66% of US and 85% of Congress.
from 25 in 1992; majority/minority
Most blacks in Congress are Democrats;
districts have helped. Black and Hispanic Republicans run Congress just now so
members of Congress join as a group
their influence is limited. Still only one
(Caucus) which gives them more
EM President, and never a Hispanic.
influence on policy, laws, etc.
Currently no black Senators.
STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Ethnic minorities more likely to vote in
EMs still under-represented at state and
state and local elections; EM candidates local level compared to their overall size.
tend to be more successful in these
Only 3/50 EM Governors in the USA (2
elections. Huge growth in EM mayors
Republicans, 1 Democrat). Very
and state representatives e.g. 484 black expensive running local campaigns; EMs
mayors; four of US largest cities have
tend to be poorer (Governor campaigns
cost average $45 million).
How ethnic minorities use political power (summary)
Obama elected President; can introduce laws and policies based on his
experiences of being an ethnic minority in the USA
Black and Hispanic Caucuses in Congress; (a Caucus is a meeting of a certain
group of people) all Black and Hispanic members of Congress join as a Caucus to
talk about issues which specifically affect their race e.g. suggest new laws
More elected EM officials; as more EM are elected as Mayors, etc this allows
them to make laws based on their experiences and the groups that elect them
Improved EM voter turnout; as more EMs vote this forces politicians (of
whatever race) to take account of their demands when making laws
Ethnic minorities – social & economic progress
Ethnic minorities in the USA have made some social, economic and political progress
in the past few decades. However they still generally do worse than white people.
The government have taken some steps to rectify this but work remains to be done.
Black poverty levels have reduced in
recent years (but Credit Crunch stalled
this). Also Asians have highest average
earnings, even more than whites (Asians,
$54,000; whites, $46,000). Asian
business ownership at high levels too; US
Business Support Administration helps
set up new businesses.
Credit crunch has seen all ethnic groups
suffer a reduction in their income.
Hispanic reduction largest of all ethnic
groups (66% drop in income). Black
divide emerging; some well off (growing
middle class), others getting poorer.
Blacks still poorer than whites (black
poverty, 25%; white poverty 8%).
Black/Hispanic unemployment fell
Unemployment has increased for all
sharply in the 1990s, possibly due to
groups following Credit Crunch. Blacks
Affirmative Action but also the stronger twice as likely as whites to be
economy; credit crunch hurt this. Asians unemployed (17% to 9%). Hispanic
have high employment and business
unemployment increasing too. Strong
ownership rates. 3.7% of Asians work in link between black unemployment and
finance compared to 2.3% of whites.
low educational achievement (cycle of
Asians perform better in education that
Blacks and Hispanics more likely to do
all other ethnic groups. Number of
badly in education; 40% of Hispanics
blacks and Hispanics graduating from
drop out of High School compared to
High School and college has increased in 15% of whites. EMs also more likely to
recent years. Government would argue
attend poor schools, which are underNo Child Left Behind Act has helped.
resourced and have gang problems.
Obama’s healthcare reforms will
increase insurance numbers (but doesn’t
come into effect for 2 more years). Asian
Americans live longer and have better
health record than all other groups;
Asians account for 5% of US population
but only 0.6% of new AIDS cases.
Number of Hispanics with no health
insurance fell between 2000 and 2007.
Blacks and Hispanics the groups most
likely to suffer from poor health and be
uninsured. Hispanics most likely to work
in dangerous jobs e.g. construction. In
2007 10% of whites were uninsured
compared to 20% of blacks and 32% of
Hispanics. Blacks most likely to suffer
from AIDS; blacks make up 13% of US
population yet 44% of new AIDS cases.
Immigration – The debate
Complaints that immigrants take jobs
Lower wages immigrants keep prices low
from Americans, especially after the
for all Americans. Some states rely on
Credit Crunch; 11% US unemployment
immigrants e.g. 80% of farm workers in
rate. Also accused of lowering average
California. Immigrants often do jobs
wages e.g. low skill wages 2.4% down.
Americans don’t want e.g. domestic
This hurts the poorest workers, often
service. Financial benefit too e.g. $30
billion boost to US economy annually.
Immigrants are a drain on essential
Many immigrants bring in essential skills
services like health and education;
e.g. huge number of nurses are
significant cost to magnet states e.g. $5
immigrants, without which some
billion annually in California. Immigrants hospitals couldn’t work. Immigrants also
need extra help e.g. translators in
work as low paid cleaners, etc in schools,
schools. Some hospitals have closed
hospitals. ‘A day without immigrants’
down because of unpaid medical bills.
showed how important immigrants are.
American culture overwhelmed e.g.
America was founded on immigration;
some want English as the national
most Americans trace their roots
language. In some states road signs are
somewhere else. Immigrants bring in
written in Spanish and English. Tension
interest and culture e.g. Italian food, etc.
as Americans react against the incomers; Immigrants tend to be younger and most
Hispanic population increase huge; 2012 active; just the people America needs to
most US babies (50.4%) born non-white. keep it vibrant.
Immigration – government policies
There is a big debate as to who should be responsible for tackling immigration
problems in the USA, the states or Federal government.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT – POST 9/11
Various actions following 9/11 to tackle
Lead to a reduction in the number of
immigration. The 2001 PATRIOT Act gave immigrants – legal and illegal – entering
Attorney general power to declare any
the USA (c.1 million in 2001 to c.700,000
immigrant as a terrorist and increased
in 2003). Complaints that the rules gave
border patrols; 2001 Border Security Act too much power to the government; also
increased budget for border checks.
eventually increased illegal immigration.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT – SINCE 2005
Magnet states demanded immigrants be Both Presidents’ plans were rejected by
allowed to work in their states; President Congress, meaning that no meaningful
Bush proposed the Guest Worker Bill, so action was taken by the Federal
more immigrants could get temporary
Government. Also shows hypocrisy that
visas. Bush also increased the border
many in the US complain about
patrol budget by $700 million. President immigrants and yet they need them for
Obama proposed the DREAM Act, to let cheap labour.
illegal immigrants’ children stay.
Magnet state governments have taken
Too early to say if California’s DREAM Act
action. California introduced its own
will make any difference, but it shows
DREAM Act. Other actions have been
that they need immigration. Arizona’s
more controversial; Arizona brought in a plan received huge criticism and was
law to allow police to stop-and-search
referred to the Supreme Court for being
anyone who looked like an immigrant.
unconstitutional; other parts of it were
Texas launched a Virtual Border Watch
simply dropped. The Texas camera
to allow people to look at the border on initiative was criticised as a gimmick and
webcam and report suspicious activity.
has numerous broken cameras.
Past Paper questions
To what extent does Congress act as an effective check on the powers
of the President?
Assess the effectiveness of government policies to reduce social and
economic inequalities in the USA.
Assess the impact of recent immigration on the USA.
To what extent do ethnic minorities achieve the American Dream?
Assess the effectiveness of Congress and the Supreme Court in checking
the powers of the President.
To what extent do ethnic minorities influence the outcome of elections
in the USA?